Published March 29, 2011
Safety and sturdiness are top priorities for new U.S. consulates and embassies in this post-9/11 world, and those qualities were crucial to the development of the new Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations building, which was dedicated Tuesday night at a ceremony in New York City.
And within the newly reinforced concrete and steel walls of the United States Mission to the United Nations, was a veritable who's who of the diplomatic scene.
Among those joining President Obama in celebrating the new mission were former President Bill Clinton, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, as well as U.N. ambassadors from Russia and India. Even the Libyan Ambassador Mohamed Shalgham, who defected from Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime, showed up. Also in attendance, NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Rep. Charles Rangel and former New York Mayor David Dinkins.
The 147,000-square-foot, $167 million fortress houses the American diplomatic staff and even has a secure location within for sending and receiving classified information. To ensure that classified information is not intercepted by rogue elements, there are said to be soundproof walls and a special secure room to communicate with the White House.
Designed by the firm of renowned architect Charles Gwanthmey, the formidable structure rises above Manhattan’s First Avenue across the street from the United Nations complex. The designers said they wanted “an iconic tower that would transcend strict programmatic and technical constraints, and become a compelling and representative landmark for architecture and democracy.”
The 26-story building is named after Ronald H. Brown, the former U.S. secretary of commerce who was killed along with 34 others in a 1996 plane crash in Croatia while on his way to drum up trade in the war-torn former Yugoslavia.
"Ron wasn't a diplomat in the traditional sense," Obama said. "He argued that when we advance the prosperity of others, we advance ourselves."
Remembering Brown's humorous side, Clinton said, "Ron was the perfect commerce secretary, but when I asked him to take it he didn't know. He asked what does a commerce secretary do?"
The new tower, which is set back 40 feet from the street, rises from a glass atrium, shooting up some 350 feet, where it is crowned by a cylindrical rotunda. The top floor gives a commanding view not only of the United Nations, but also of surrounding New York City, which has been home to the iconic U.N. Headquarters since 1952.
When asked about their impression of the mission, passersby responded with everything from, “It’s a really cool new-age building” to “It is an eyesore. It looks like a prison.”
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations opened on March 19, 1946. First called the United States Delegation, its first home was in the Fisk Building on 57th Street. In 1957, the General Services Administration bought the property at the corner of First Avenue and 45th Street, where the new mission stands.
Construction of the building started in 2005 under the Bush administration. The Federal government hired contractors with clearance issued by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service to construct the building. The old mission was torn down because it was physically inadequate to handle expanded needs of the State Department and the security needs of our time.